John Edwin CROCKER
Eyes blue, Hair dark brown, Complexion medium
The Army Senior Cadet and AIF recruit
John (Jack) Edwin Crocker was born on 2 October 1895 in Adelaide to Albert Edwin and Isabella May (nee Quin) Crocker. He had two brothers, Stan and Bert, and one sister, Ivy.
At about 15 years old, he began working as a tailor’s cutter for E. Parton and Company in Adelaide and was with them until he enlisted in the Army.
During his school years, he spent two years as a member of the 75th Battalion of the Army Senior Cadets. While joining the Cadets was compulsory at that time, author Maxwell Waugh notes that:
“When war was declared in 1914, Australia had a ready-made army of well-trained, disciplined and patriotic young lads, glad to risk their lives."
Jack’s older brother, Stan, joined the Army in February 1915. He served in Gallipoli from September 1915 and was later transferred to Egypt and then to the Western Front in Belgium.
Jack was also keen to serve and he had his father’s permission. However, his first attempts to sign up were rejected due to his height which was just over 5 feet 2 inches. In June 1915, the height limit was reduced from 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 2 inches so Jack re-applied and was accepted on 14 July 1915. According to newspaper reports, this was his eighth attempt to enlist! He was assigned to A Company in the 32nd Battalion.
Jack’s enlistment closely coincided with the formation of the 32nd Battalion. The 32nd was made up of recruits from South Australia and West Australia. There was much fanfare about this, with gatherings, community support, such as the Cheer-up Society and reviews by the Premier. They departed Adelaide on HMAT A2 Geelong on 18 November 1915.
Egypt then France and the Western Front
After almost a month’s crossing, the Battalion disembarked in Suez on 13 December 1915. Training and assignments continued until June 1916, taking them to El Ferdan, Ismailia, Tel el Kabir, Ferry Post and Moascar, along the Suez Canal.
In mid-June 1916, the 32nd was assigned to join the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front. They embarked from Alexandria on the 17th and arrived in Marseilles on the 23rd. Three days of travel later, they were encamped in Morbeque, about 30 km from Fleurbaix and the front line. Major J. A. Higgon was assigned the command of A Company and they continued bayonet and gas mask training as they continued their move towards the front line.
On 14 July, at about 10pm, they had moved into their billets in Fleurbaix.
Their initial assignments were the reconnoitering of the front trenches and No Man’s Land. On July 16th they left their billets in Fleurbaix at 10pm and proceeded to the trenches.
By 4:30pm on the 17th, A Company was in the lines in the rear, but due to bombardment, they moved back to Fleurbaix. At midnight, B & D Companies returned to the trenches to begin work on cutting passages through the Australians’ barbed wire defenses in preparation for the upcoming attack. On the 18th, A & C Companies relieved them.
At 4:15pm on the 19th, all were in position in the front lines. At 5:53pm the attack was begun and A & C Companies were the first and second waves to go over the parapet.
By 6:30pm they were in control of the German’s 1st line system (map Trench B), which was noted as “practically a ditch with from 1 to 2 feet of mud and slush at the bottom”. By 8:30pm their left flank was under heavy bombardment with high explosives and shrapnel. Return bombardment support was provided and the troops were told that “the trenches were to be held at all costs”.
Fighting continued through the night, but at 4:00am, the Germans began their attack from the Australian’s left flank, bombed our troops who had reached Trench A and forced their way through from firing line E.
A charge at the Germans’ firing line was made by the Australians from troops in line B, but with a lack of grenades and machine gun fire from behind from an emplacement at Delangre Farm, they were unable to push them back and had to retreat.
By 7:30am on the morning of 20 July the Australians had withdrawn back to their original lines.
The toll the attack took on the 32nd Battalion was high. The commander of A Company was among those killed with 67 further solders identified as killed, 367 wounded and 214 soldiers were still missing, including Jack Crocker.
Although they still spent periods in the front line after the battle, the 32nd played no major offensive role for the rest of the year.
What happened to Jack?
Sergeant Arthur Errington, service number 91, reported:
I saw him in the German third line at Fromelles on July 20th, at the time of the retirement. He was lying on his back in a communication trench. Just previously he had been up on the parapet firing his rifle. He was shot off it and rolled onto his back in the trench. I am prepared to swear he was dead.
This was also confirmed by Private 271 Charles Leslie Willshire who saw him lying dead as he was coming back from being wounded. “
A German list of prisoners of war dated 4 November 1916 was received by the Red Cross and showed that 'identification marks found on the Prisoner of War are inspected by the General War Bureau and shown in the lists as under DEAD'. Jack’s identification disc was later received from Germany on 13 March 1917 and eventually returned to his family.
The Crocker family left to grieve and remember
The confirmations of Jack’s death were felt deeply by his family. His mother, Isabella, had died in September 1915 while Jack was still in training in Australia and his brother Stan serving in Gallipoli. This left his father, Bert, and siblings – Bert, Stan and Ivy - to grieve his loss.
Jack was not the only family member affected by the War. His brother, Lance Corporal 775 Robert Stanley (Stan) Crocker, served with the 27th Battalion and was wounded in the hip/thigh on Anzac Ridge on 4 October 1917 in the battle of Broodseinde, near Ypres, Belgium. He survived and returned to Australia in January 1918.
After being finally identified in 2014, Jack’s grave is now marked with a headstone in the Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery, Fromelles, France - plot IV, row B, grave 1. The inscription includes his details and is also inscribed:
Loved Brother of Bert, Stan and Ivy. Lest We Forget.
As seen in the modern day “additions” to Jack’s gravesite in the photos below, his bravery continues to be honoured by more than just his family.
For his bravery in service, Jack was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. In addition to his grave at Pheasant Wood cemetery at Fromelles, Jack is also honoured on the following:
- Australian War Memorial, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
- Adelaide National War Memorial, Adelaide, South Australia
- Goodwood St George Anglican Church Memorial Tower, Unley, South Australia
- Plympton North Richmond Baptist Church Honour Roll, West Torrens, South Australia
LEST WE FORGET
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